Bill Would Close Malls on Shabbat but Allow Some Public Transit

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An Egged bus. The company says it was following police advice to leave Israeli-Arab student Biyan Khaled at a service plaza.Credit: Rafi Kutz

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation will vote on Sunday on a bill introduced by members of both the opposition and the coalition, which would prohibit the opening of large shopping centers on Saturdays, but would approve limited public transportation on lines that are far from synagogues and religious neighborhoods, and allow grocery stores and pharmacies to open as decided by each city.

MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union), one of the framers of the bill, said: “All cultural venues, recreation and entertainment facilities will be open and the bill acts to encourage the public to reach them.” Trajtenberg said the idea behind the bill was for the Sabbath “to allow people to do what they don’t have time to do during the week.”

The ultra-Orthodox parties are expected to oppose the bill, but its sponsors are pressing them not to actually veto it; the coalition agreements state that each party in the coalition has the right to veto bills that breach the status quo.

Trajtenberg present the bill at a meeting of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and the rabbis of Tekuma, a faction within Habayit Hayehudi. “They understand, even if they haven’t seen it with their own eyes, that Shabbat is disappearing in Israel. Shopping centers do 40 percent of their business on Shabbat,” he said. According to Trajtenberg, the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers said they could not allow desecration of the Sabbath as outlined in the bill. “I understand their distress but they also know that this bill will lead to significantly less Sabbath desecration. They have room to maneuver: They can oppose the law, just let them not veto it.”

Three other MKs are behind the bill: Miki Zohar (Likud), Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) and Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid). They hope that all parties will allow MKs to vote their conscience if the ministerial committee approves the bill. If so, Trajtenberg said, the bill would pass by a large majority. “In Zionist Union there will be major opposition from the kibbutzim, which own some of the shopping centers that are open on Shabbat,” he said, specifically mentioning his Zionist Union Knesset colleague MK Eitan Broshi, who represents the kibbutzim.

Trajtenberg said the issue of the Sabbath was constantly going from one crisis to another and the bill would avoid further crises over it.

Two other bills on the issue, initiated by the Haredi parties, will not advance for now. One, not yet complete, is a government-sponsored bill introduced by Interior Minister Arye Dery after the High Court of Justice confirmed the legality of a Tel Aviv bylaw allowing minimarts in the city to open on Shabbat. The other, sponsored by Shas and United Torah Judaism and also in response to the High Court ruling, would bar grocery stores from opening on Shabbat.

The heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties met Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was decided at the meeting on a move to grant Dery authority to enforce laws governing work and rest hours. It was also decided that Netanyahu would present the government’s position to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, requesting another High Court hearing before an expanded bench on the matter of the opening of groceries in Tel Aviv on Shabbat.

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